The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is a fabulous treasure of aviation history, and the most visited tourist attraction in the Marlborough region which is otherwise best known for sunny weather and top sauvignon blanc wines.
Located at historic Omaka Airfield - close to the town of Blenheim - Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is a world-class museum dedicated to the preservation and appreciation of rare historic aircraft, and celebrating New Zealand’s rich ties with flight and the evolution of aviation. The two major exhibitions represent the story of flight as it evolved through the First and Second World Wars.
Knights of the Sky
'Knights of the Sky’ - the heritage centre's Great War exhibition - is also an outstanding example of Kiwi innovation, weaving together the storytelling genius, high-tech and visual effects wizardry of New Zealand film-makers and an incredible collection of some of the world’s rarest WWI aircraft.
Many of the planes and historic artefacts in this exhibition belong to New Zealand film-maker Sir Peter Jackson who was just a boy when he began collecting aviation memorabilia and, as befits the collection owner, the heritage centre is much more than a museum.
The displays created by Wellington’s WingNut Films feature exceptional mannequins by Weta Workshop that are worthy of a movie set - helping bring the collection to life with a multi-sensory theatrical experience and static displays that recount the human stories of the French, British, German, Australian and New Zealand pilots who flew these aircraft.
Among these is the ‘Baron’s Last Flight’ exhibition - depicting the death of Manfred von Richthofen in 1918 - which includes personal items that once belonged to the famed Red Baron.
The collection includes many well-preserved aviation artefacts including a highly-sort-after Caproni Ca 22, believed to be the only one left in the world. Other treasures include a bird-like Taube (dove) an aircraft which has continued to capture the imagination ever since it first took flight in 1910.
Alongside the original and full-scale replica WW1 aircraft, the 3000sqm of display includes memorabilia worthy of any national collection - ranging from beautifully crafted ‘trench art’ through to personal items.
Sir Peter Jackson chairs the 14-18 Aviation Heritage Trust, a group of passionate aviation enthusiasts who manage the extensive collection.
Dangerous Skies, opened in 2016, is the World War II exhibition. Designed and built with visual storytelling at the centre of the historic displays, this exhibition includes a series of aircraft coupled with stories of the heroes who flew the missions, along with the thought-provoking multi-media 'Stalingrad Experience'.
The planes include the Messerschmitt Bf108 once owned and flown by a German ace and a Lockheed Hudson, an American-built light bomber and coastal reconnaissance aircraft which has been suspended in a dramatic crash scene in the depths of a Pacific island jungle.
Visitors to Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre who want a taste of the real thing can embark on a vintage joy flight in one of several planes. The Boeing Stearman airplane is configured with three seats so that couples can travel together in the front cockpit and share the experience and beauty of flying over New Zealand's premier wine-growing region.
Aviation in New Zealand
New Zealand’s long aviation heritage goes back to the earliest days of human flight. Adventurous Kiwis were among some of the first in the world to fly, and aviation has played a significant role in the nation’s development.
This aviation history and heroes is celebrated in a series of museums and collections throughout New Zealand. There are notable world-class aviation collections on display in Auckland, Tauranga and Masterton (in the North Island), Marlborough and Wanaka (in the South Island), and some smaller private collections are also open to the public.
Visitors will find are many opportunities to experience and access the magic and grandeur of New Zealand’s varied landscapes from above - on a scenic plane, helicopter or balloon flight.
Travel Tips - Marlborough
Marlborough - at the top of the South Island - is New Zealand’s largest grape and wine producing region. Year-round sunshine, and a diverse natural landscape of extensive coastline and huge stands of untouched native forests make Marlborough an outdoor adventure destination.
What to do: Make the most of your stay by visiting one (or all!) of the innumerable cellar doors that are dotted throughout the area - including the famous Cloudy Bay and Brancott Estates. Several companies run tours from Blenheim town centre, or hire a bicycle and cycle the vines at your own pace.
How to get there: Nestled in the heart of wine country, Blenheim is a charming country town. Regular buses, a railway line and a small airport mean the town is exceptionally well connected to all national centres - it’s also just 1.5 hours’ drive from Nelson and a scenic four hour drive from Christchurch. If you’re heading over from Wellington, opt for the picturesque ferry crossing that docks in nearby Picton.